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Elle Fanning Was Told She Lost a Role at 16 Because She Wasn't Sexy Enough

The 25-year-old opened up about the "disgusting" experience in a new interview.

Even since she was very young, Elle Fanning has been in the public eye. She came to fame as a child star with roles in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Super 8, Babel, and I Am Sam, in which she played the younger version of her sister Dakota Fanning's character. Now, 25, Fanning says she is grateful to have had the same manager and agent since she was young, and that they have looked out for her and protected her from some of the horrors of the entertainment industry. But, in a recent panel with The Hollywood Reporter, Fanning shared that one very inappropriate comment did make its way to her when she was attempting to land a role as a teenager.

During The Hollywood Reporter's comedy actress roundtable, Fanning (The Great) spoke about her career with Jenna Ortega (Wednesday), Sheryl Lee Ralph (Abbott Elementary), Ayo Edebiri (The Bear), Devery Jacobs (Reservation Dogs), and Natasha Lyonne (Poker Face). She recounted a story—the first time she's told it, according to her—about finding out that she wasn't offered a role in a "father-daughter road trip comedy" at 16 because she wasn't thought to be sexy enough. Read on to learn more.

READ THIS NEXT: Charlize Theron Says a Producer Once Called Her at 3 a.m. to Say She Was "Fat and Ugly."

Fanning lost a part because of the way she looked.

Warning: Explicit language in the video above.

At one point in the comedy roundtable, Fanning said of her early career, "I was very protected, I have an amazing manager and agent who've been with me since I was eight or nine." When Ralph pointed out that this is "rare," Fanning replied, "Very, and I recognize that."

But, despite this protection, an offensive comment slipped through to her when she was a teen.

"I've never told this story, but I was trying out for a movie," Fanning said. "I didn't get it. I don't even think they ever made it, but it was a father-daughter road trip comedy. I didn't hear from my agents because they wouldn't tell me things like this—that filtration system is really important because there's probably a lot more damaging comments that they filtered—but this one got to me. I was 16 years old, and a person said, 'Oh, she didn't get the father-daughter road trip comedy because she's un-[expletive]-able."

She called the comment "disgusting."

Elle Fanning at the 2023 Critics' Choice Awards
Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock

Ralph responded, "Whoa. At 16?!" to which Fanning said, "Yeah, it's so disgusting. And I can laugh at it now, like, 'What a disgusting pig!'"

Asked to expand on how she handled the comment, Fanning continued, "I was always immensely confident, but of course you're growing up in the public eye, and it's weird. I'll look at paparazzi photos from when I was 12 and think, 'Is that a good thing to see such a mirror of yourself at that age?' I don't feel like it damaged me, but it definitely made me very aware of myself."

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Fanning now feels more control over her career.

Elle Fanning at the Daily Front Row Fashion Los Angeles Awards in 2023
DFree / Shutterstock

In a 2020 interview with HuffPost, Fanning explained that with age and experience she's been able to take more authority over her career and be more discerning with the roles she takes. This is a big difference compared to when she was a teenager and auditioned for the road trip comedy.

"I don't want to play just a strong female character," Fanning said. "That actually seems boring. It's so much more complicated than that. There's this stigma of every woman has to look a certain way in films. Oh, you have to smile, or that's too silly, or that's not likable enough. As I've gotten older, I've realized I can fight against that a little bit. Because starting out, when you're young, you're going to get what you're going to get because you're auditioning. I didn't really have the choice to choose what I got to play until now."

She added that she's able to turn down scripts that feature descriptions of women that don't appeal to her."I get to say, 'No, that's just her in a bikini, no thanks.' Or a script will say, 'She's beautiful and doesn't know it.' That's just automatically, 'I don't really want to play that part,'" she explained.

She's also shared another surprising reason she didn't book a job.

Fanning shared in an earlier interview that she lost a different role for another reason that had nothing to do with her talent.

While appearing on the Happy Sad Confused podcast in May, Fanning said she heard she was turned down for a project for not having enough Instagram followers.

"I'm not going to say what it was, but I didn't get a part once for something big because—it might not have just been this reason, but this was the feedback that I heard—was because I didn't have enough Instagram followers at the time," she said. "I firmly don't believe in not getting a part [for that reason]. It was for a bigger thing, like a franchise-y thing."

Elle reported that the part may have been Jean Grey in the X-Men franchise, because Sophie Turner, who played the character, shared a similar account to Fanning's, but from the other perspective.

"I auditioned for a project and it was between me and another girl who is a far better actress than I am, far better, but I had the followers, so I got the job," Turner told Porter. "It's not right, but it is part of the movie industry now."

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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